While Israel’s Air Force is strongest in the region, it’s old.
In an attempt to degrade the Iranian threats, Israel has been carrying out a war-between-wars campaign since 2013 against Iranian and Hezbollah targets. This past year saw the most operational activity in that campaign since it began, on all borders and beyond.
Despite the fact that Israel’s enemies are not interested in war, the IDF has “increased it’s pace of preparations” for confrontation, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi told journalists on Wednesday. “On both the northern and southern fronts the situation is tense and fragile and deteriorate into a confrontation,” he said.
In response, Israel has increased their defenses. The IDF has also published it’s new multi-year plan for the military. The “Momentum” plan aims to make it deadlier, faster and better trained to go up against the threats facing it and plans to procure a significant amount of precision guided missiles and mid-sized drones as well as additional air defense batteries using money from the $3.8 billion a year Israel receives from the United States every year under the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding.
But the heavy cost of the multi-year plan needs a budget in order to pay for the new weapons and defensive systems and with no government sitting in the Knesset, the Finance Ministry has not approved the necessary budget increase.
Israel’s Air Force – while the strongest in the region – needs to procure new fighter jets, helicopters and refueling tankers in order to win a war against a foe over 2,000 kilometers away.
Many of the IAF’s aircraft are between 30-50 years old and a deal to purchase new aircraft has been reported to cost an estimated $11 billion.
First used by the IAF in 1969, the Yas’ur helicopters are the air force’s primary helicopter used regularly to transport soldiers and equipment. While the ageing helicopters have been upgraded with 20 new electronic systems and missile defense, the IAF will still need to replace them by 2025 when they will be over 50 years old.
In March, the annual State Comptroller report recommended that the IAF replacing the ageing aircraft as soon as possible as “prolonging the life of the Yas’ur is liable to endanger human life and may have significant operational implications and substantial maintenance costs.”
The IAF plans to buy some 20 new heavy-lift helicopters—in other words, one squadron—to replace the current CH-53 Sea Stallion squadron at the Tel Nof Base: Lockheed Martin Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion, the same maker of the Yas’ur, and Boeing’s Ch-47F Chinook helicopter.
But, the decision between the two hasn’t been made yet and the longer it takes to sign a contract to replace the Yas’ur, the possibility of a failure in the platform increases.
In parallel to the helicopters, the IAF needs to retain it’s qualitative military edge and modernize an essential squadron of its fighter fleet. Israel’s Air Force is also set to decide on a third squadron of F-35I jets or Boeing’s latest F-15I fighter jets.
The IAF has already received 12 F-35I “Adir” stealth fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin and is expected to receive a total of 50 to make two full squadrons by 2024.
In addition to the fifth-generation F-35I, Israel is in dire need of new fighter aircraft before the current ones reach the end of their life-cycle, something which is creeping ever closer. Most of the IAF’s F-15s are over 30 years old with the majority acquired in the second half of the 1970s and a more advanced squadron of F-15s arrived in Israel in the 1990s.
Israel’s Air Force is leaning towards a mix of both the F-35s and F-15is, allowing the IAF to carry out a number of complex operations, including any possible confrontation with Iran on its borders.
While it is considered one of the world’s most advanced fighter jet, the stealth F-35I aircraft is limited in the weapons they are able to carry as they have to be stored in internal munition boxes in order to maintain a low radar signature.
The F-15I model that Israel is interested in purchasing is able to carry large quantities of various types of munitions, advanced radar systems, and various other upgrades to the earlier models. Since it is not a stealth plane, Boeing has designed its wings to be able to carry additional bombs and missiles.
In addition, the IAF is also leaning towards purchasing the V-22 tilt-rotar aircraft which would allow for special operations.
But if a confrontation breaks out far from Israel’s borders, the IAF will need a refueler for its jets. Many of the current refueler aircraft which are required for long-range missions, the Re’em (Boeing 707) tankers, are nearing the age of 60 and due to their age, Israel has been forced to find replacement parts by dismantling older planes bought from countries like Brazil or online.
While the IAF is said to be considering buying used Boeing 767 commercial aircraft and converting them for airborne refuelling of combat planes, it is also considering Boeing’s KC-46 tanker which has a range of 11,830 km and the capacity to unload some 207,000 pounds of fuel in over 64 different types of aircraft.
The decisions need to be made as soon as possible and to do so, Israel needs to form a government to allow the military to make a proper budget.
There’s no more time to waste.
A comparison by international defense site Global Firepower (GFP) found that Israel’s military slipped below it’s arch-nemesis Iran in the ranking of military powers, coming in at 17 versus 14.
The site allows for one to compare two specific countries against each other, showing military data such as total manpower available, active personnel, total amount of reservists, and total military personnel. The site also shows the total amount of arms such as aircraft, tanks, naval assets as well as artillery strength.
According to the site Israel’s total military personnel stands at an estimated 615,000 compared to Iran’s 934,000. But Iran’s total population is significantly larger than Israel at 83,024,745 versus Israel’s 8,424,904.
A comparison between Iran and Israel shows that while Iran had a significantly larger naval assets than Israel (398 versus 65), while Israel had far greater tank strength (2,760 versus 1,634) and has some 6,541 armored fighting vehicles compared to Iran’s 2,345. According to the site, the total amount of aircraft between the two countries are close with Israel having 595 versus Iran’s 509.
Iran has been working to bolster the country’s ageing naval fleet and has commissioned its first indigenously developed Fateh-class submarine outfitted with a guided-missile system capable of launching submarine-launched cruise missiles as well as anti-ship missiles and torpedoes.
While Tehran has said that it’s missile program is defensive in nature and provides deterrent capabilities, Israel and the United States have repeatedly warned against Iran’s missile program, claiming that the missiles tested by Tehran are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.